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Fairfax Fifth Graders Teach First Graders
Oct. 30, 2017 -- Fairfax teacher George Gee knows that one of the best ways to guarantee his fifth graders have mastered new content is to let them teach it to someone else. Fellow teacher Jennifer Gareau knows that one of the best ways to engage her first graders is for them to be taught by their role models. So the two veteran teachers joined forces for Mr. Gee’s class to teach their younger schoolmates how the rotation of the earth causes day and night.

After some final tips from their master teacher, the fifth graders lined up with arms full of instructional materials, nervous but excited to show what they know. They had an air of professionalism as they filed into Ms. Gareau’s room, ready to begin. The first graders put on no such airs, instead squealing with delight as they saw their cousins, neighbors and friends. 

Students paired up, one older and one younger, and found a seat at a table or a spot on the floor. Half the group started with a picture sort where the younger students sorted images of activities one would complete during the daytime, nighttime or either into the appropriate category.

The fifth graders improvised, asking leading questions like, “What do you think is happening in this picture?” and even drawing out the lesson with follow-up questions like, “What other kinds of things do you like to do in the evening?”

Day and night lesson activities 

The real excitement came when the lights went off and the flashlights came out. Each pair had a small globe, which was balanced on the lid of a mason jar. The fifth graders pointed out where Ohio was on the globe and then shined their flashlight directly on it to indicate daylight. As the Earth turned slowly, the light moved across the land from east to west, plunging Ohio into darkness.

Older student using flashlight to demonstrate daylight 

“What’s happening here?” Chase Rhea asked his little cousin as our spot on the globe experienced sunset. “Where do you see the light?” A high five was earned with every correct response. 

Students give each other a high five

The older students introduced new vocabulary words like rotation, revolution, dusk and dawn and were sure to point out that the sun doesn’t move even though it appears that way as we watch the light change across the sky. In addition to reinforcing their science content and practicing communication skills, the older students learned that teachers have to be flexible and quick on their feet. Janelle Steiner differentiated on the spot by teaching her young charge the names of the planets, complete with the requisite mnemonic, “My very eager mother…”  

The first graders were thrilled with their teachers and eager to impress. Jamar Chisolm’s partner succeeded. “Wow, you’re really getting the hang of this. I knew you’d be able to do it but I didn’t know you’d do it so fast!”

When Ms. Gareau gathered her students on the rug to debrief afterwards, she announced that the first grade curriculum also included how the earth’s movement makes day and night, but not until the third trimester. “But we’ll use today as our background knowledge!”  

They definitely have a solid foundation to build on. Henry Miller reported that he’d learned “how day and night come. When it’s light in one place, it’s dark in the other. But the sun isn’t what’s moving; we’re moving!”

“We orbit,” added Ajanae Pearsall. “And the moon orbits too!”

Marie Louise Douo summarized all her new knowledge: “We’re right here,” she said, pointing to the ground, “and China is on the other side. So when it’s nighttime here, the people in China are already awake.”

Fifth grader Maurisa Tyson felt proud of what she’d accomplished. “I had to understand it all really well to teach it to someone else.” 

Both teachers agreed that the day was a success and hope to use peer mentoring again in the future.

The first graders will certainly welcome it, especially Samara Smith-Williams who said, “That was better than awesome. That was fantastic!”

Fifth grader using globe to teach first grader